We’re coach-bound to Livingstone, 3 hours in and setting off from a services break where the sun is setting over the Golden Pillow Lodge. Although our visit ends on a romantic note, the majority of it was spent waiting in line for my turn to use a urinal, apparently being sterilised by the UV bulbs chosen to light the toilets. Putting this loo visit aside, our journey has been spectacular so far. The bush extends to the horizon on all sides where it meet the dusty sky. In the foreground we encounter livestock, bush fires and parched Baobab waiting for the rains to restore the proud, fat silhouettes for which they are famed.
Getting out of Lusaka is a welcome break. While the working days are long, and our chances to get around in spare time are limited by the early dusk and the perils of driving the 1950s Land Rover affectionately called “the Beast”. There’s no way of knowing when the fuel tank is empty, and today we found ourselves out of luck. Fortunately we were not far from home, and with the help of some locals were able to push it along the last stretch of road to the Gossner Mission.
Despite these challenges, it’s true to say that I’m settling in. Mornings are relaxed and expansive, featuring yoga, jogs (now met with greater enthusiasm), and in my case two breakfasts of yoghurt and granola. There’ve also been some really rewarding lessons I’ve been party to at the Academy. Yesterday I met with their only clarinet student, who had been preparing the 1st movement of Mozart’s clarinet quintet. He’d done an impressive job, with accurate finger-work and sure musical intentions, though he lacked the technique and self-assurance to put it across. My recommended solution- as it so often is- involved discussion of legato and an “it doesn’t matter” attitude towards mistakes.
Encountering so many students makes clear the trends of malpractice which contribute to the difficult relationship any musician forms with the music they study. Perusing their books, I have seen annotations like “no dynamics”, “too slow” or simply “wrong”. When playing through recorder music for fun, teacher O’Brian insists “No, again,” after slip-ups. The Academy is a place where music has been introduced to add value to young people’s lives, away from any pressure to carve out a career, and yet music still becomes something we beat ourselves up over. I used to be confused when music teachers would ignore my mistakes in lessons, but I see now how important it is to let it go, remind students to practise slowly and focus instead on being confident, experimenting and putting music in its place as a means of expression and something to enjoy.